what to do when you find out your teen have been smoking pot?
May 1, 2006 4:52 AM   Subscribe

What are the appropriate next steps for a divorced parent to take when she finds out that her 16 year old son has been smoking pot for the last year?

This weekend I received my first phone call to come pick up my son from the police station for possession of drug paraphernalia i.e.: pipe. A situation where a busted tail light was the catalyst for his buddy being pulled over. In hind sight, I now realize that during the past year that perhaps my son's increase in mood swings, decrease in grades, and increase in rebellion may be connected with his new hobby.

In the post retrieval-sit down discussion-my son admitted that he has been smoking since sometime last year. The most recent frequency is about once a week. I'm not totally convinced that I have all the facts yet. He says that the pipe was not his; he was merely hiding it when the cop pulled his friend over.

Unfortunately, I have no personal experience with drugs. Somehow I went all the way through college and was only offered pot once -- at one retreat during my senior year of high school.

Doubly unfortunately, his dad has a tremendous background with drug use. The dad appears to be more concerned that our son was caught... and the dad tells our son how he should of just kicked the pipe under the car seat.

So, the question(s): son has been issued a citation with fine and notice to appear (Wisconsin)... what can I expect? What are appropriate next steps at home for consequences? What do I do parentally to better insure that this experimentation does not lead to darker, worse experiences?

(My son has his driver's permit. However, prior to this incident he was told that he will not be allowed to get his license nor to have his own car unless he has a B average in school.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hm. Well, here's my perspective: I started smoking weed when I was about 16. I smoked through high school, but probably only about once a week for most of the time. I graduated near the top of my class, did well on my SATs, and got accepted to a good university where I have a 3.8 GPA. And these days I smoke a lot more than once a week.

But I also knew kids who fucked up in high school, and some of them smoked weed. There can be a couple reasons for this. I think maturity can be a big part of it. In theory, there's a good reason that you have to be 21 to drink; the state wants to insure that people who are intoxicating themselves are mature enough to handle that decision responsibly. Unfortunately, the system is imperfect, and some kids are probably mature enough to handle that at 18 or so, while others still aren't ready at 21.

Anyway, weed is no different. Some kids aren't ready to be responsible about it yet; 16 is pretty young, although that's around when most of the successful smokers I knew started; most of the real screw-ups I knew started earlier. But some kids might not be ready to be responsible at 16. Or maybe they're wired such that they'll never be able to deal with the effects.

Or, maybe for him smoking is a way to get away from some other problem. Like any intoxicant, some people will use it to self-medicate. If this is the case, simply making sure he doesn't smoke will probably not turn things around.

Anyway, you say that his grades have gone down and he's become more rebellious, and that you suspect that it may be related to the weed. These are causes for concern, and it's good that you're trying to do something about it. But be aware that it may be related, but there might not be a cause->effect relationship there.

I'm not sure what your relationship with your son is like, but for me in high school things seemed to go well because I generally felt like my parents trusted me. They probably trusted me because I never really screwed up. I never got in trouble, I got good grades, etc. I smoked weed and continued to not screw up, so it was all pretty much ok. But I think I knew that if I started to screw up, things would get harder. But I was also a rebellious teenager and fought with my parents a lot. So it might be hard. But you need to help your son learn how to be responsible and keep his priorities in order. That may require you paying close attention to his activities for awhile with the understanding that he has to earn your trust back. When he starts getting better grades, etc., you can start giving him more freedom.

And make sure that he understands the risks associated with smoking weed. You probably can't stop him from smoking if he really wants to, and I don't really think you should. But you should make sure he knows what he's doing and is capable of making good decisions. Good luck.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:30 AM on May 1, 2006

Well said, ludwig.

son has been issued a citation with fine and notice to appear (Wisconsin)... what can I expect?

I can't help with this question, as I'm not American, nor have I ever been served any kind of court notice/fine, however, in response to the next two questions;

What are appropriate next steps at home for consequences? What do I do parentally to better insure that this experimentation does not lead to darker, worse experiences?

I would suggest being open with him and discussing the consequences in a frank, honest manner, making sure he understands what it is he is doing. As Ludwig said, if he wants to smoke pot, then nothing, short of keeping him permanently at home, could prevent him from doing so. Try to assist him in making an informed descision. This means doing some research, and not simply from the DARE perspective, I might add. I suggest the erowid Cannabis Vault (specifically the Cannabis myths section) for an alternative understanding of some common conceptions about the drug.

An open, understanding discussion about smoking weed could allieviate your fears about other, potentially harmful experimentation.

One thing to keep in mind is that what you may consider to be symptoms of smoking pot are also symptoms of being a 16 year old guy.
posted by dazed_one at 6:10 AM on May 1, 2006

Tell him you don't want him smoking pot. Clearly state to your son rules and consequences for breaking those rules. If he breaks the rules, he must be punished. Stop. That's all you need to do on that specific matter.

We all know that is not enough. There's something else you need to give him, and that is your time. Take a high level of interest in his life. Spend lots of time with your son. That is very different from snooping around his room for drug paraphenalia or spying on him, but it has a rivalling effect. In both cases, you're going to know more about him and his doings, but when you take a keen interest in his life and spend lot's of time bonding and actively loving your son, he will feel a sence of obligation to you. You'll also know more about what he's really thinking and feeling, and be able to respond better to issues that arise.
posted by rinkjustice at 6:15 AM on May 1, 2006

This is a tricky situation. You risk looking like the stuffy parent trying to keep him from an enjoyable experience; you also risk putting him in the position of having to choose between you and his dad, which is a terrible thing to do. On the other hand, you want to do what you can (which isn't much) to keep him on the right path. I think the best you can do is rigorously monitor your tone to keep out any hint of sanctimony or fearmongering and suggest that he play it safe for the time being. The fact that he was picked up by the cops for possession—distressing as it was to you as a mother—is your best friend here; it was at least as distressing to him, and you want to point out (in as friendly and nonjudgmental a way as you can manage) that there's no way to be sure it won't happen again. If he wants to stay out of serious trouble, graduate, and have a chance at a good life, he needs to make sure such a situation can't arise again, no matter what his friends or his dad say. Presumably he's used to his dad's being unreliable (if he "has a tremendous background with drug use," that's pretty much a given), so you don't need to lean on that. Just make sure he realizes that drug use is likely to be discovered through some accident like the busted taillight and that next time he could be in serious trouble. You don't need to go the "drugs are EVIL!" route, just point out how much trouble they can cause for him. Good luck!
posted by languagehat at 6:22 AM on May 1, 2006

I believe some 10% of the population has a proclivity for addiction of some kind. Pot though relatively harmelss is readily handled by many. For others though, not so. I have a son who got on crack, went into this and that rehab place, always relapsed, could not stick with AA. Now, on his own, though he likes to go out and drink lots of beer every so often is not doing drugs any longer and has become much more serious about his future. Some manage. Others, not so. AA? for some, helpful. For others, not so. No simple answers. Being open and caring important. But then being overly accepting can perhaps not be helpful. What are his friends like? Sometimes leaving the scene can begin to change things.
Best of luck...sounds like the father is not very helpful in this.
posted by Postroad at 6:33 AM on May 1, 2006

Yeah, languagehat speaks wisely. You don't have to be nasty to him, but make sure he knows that the cops will. "The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am."
posted by ludwig_van at 6:35 AM on May 1, 2006

What do I do parentally to better insure that this experimentation does not lead to darker, worse experiences?

I'd be most interested in making sure my child didn't become yet another casualty in the War on Some Drugs. Most kids will experiment with intoxicants, generally starting around 16. Many adults use intoxicants regularly without extreme negative consequences. Soon your son will be a legal adult, your job started when he was a child and was to make sure he had sufficient education, ambition, and dreams for his life that to waste his future on intoxicants is not an attractive option for him. Your job now is to continue to nurture those dreams, and to help him form new ones as old ambitions pass.

As some experimentation is probably inevitable, you might want to start with some Principals of Responsible Cannabis Use. Your son should also know what his rights are when interacting with law enforcement. It's like sexual activity, you don't have to approve but you should make sure he knows about safe sex.

NORML can also give you some idea of the laws in your state, and reading the Court Report in your local newspaper will give you a good idea how such cases are handled locally. Assuming no priors, my random guess is it will result in no finding with 6 months unsupervised probation. With their wider perspective and the deluge of serious problems they see daily, few judges consider kids smoking pot to be the scourge to the community that some law-makers and law enforcement officers imagine it to be.

Be very wary of pleading guilty, it may effect his ability to receive Federal or State financial aid for college.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:37 AM on May 1, 2006

I think it is a simple: you broke a law of the state and of our home - you are going to be punished by the state and in our home (grounding or something).

I smoked pot more often than 1X a week in high school and turned out fine.

If he is otherwise a good kid, tell him that if behaviour like this (or any of the rules in your home) continues that he will have further priviledges taken away.

But don't worry too much about the pot. It is normal.

Now if he starts stealing, getting bad grades, or coming home late, then worry a bit more...
posted by k8t at 6:39 AM on May 1, 2006

It is possible to smoke weed and be responsible, at the same time, even for a teenager.

Being 16 is a proven cause for lowered grades and rebelliousness in many teens, especially males.

You probably can't do well trying to halt all pot use. You may have very good success teaching responsible use and handling (although your ex sounds like he'd teach the handling part). Responsible means, do the homework first, never before or during school, that sort of thing.

Please try to keep communications open with your son. Being a teen is often horrible. Keep home a friendly place.
posted by Goofyy at 6:46 AM on May 1, 2006

Get a lawyer to handle the legal issues; it's a first offense so he'll probably get off lightly, but make sure the lawyer looks into whether there was consent to search given. Also (and without endorsing drug use at all), this is a good time to make sure he sees this page from the ACLU about rights during a police stop.

As a former high school teacher, I'd note that moralizing about the evils of pot itself will do nothing except make it harder for the kid to believe you about anything else; he already knows it's not evil. Instead, focus on issues like school and respect for himself and you. It's hard to tell how much his falling grades and rebelliousness are due to smoking pot, and how much to other issues - unchallenging schoolwork, normal teenage-parent conflict, etc. - so start talking about that. Tell him pot probably isn't helping his schoolwork and you want him to promise to stop smoking during the week (yeah, I'd be suspicious of the once-a-week claim).

You should also be *helping* him get that B average; how often do you see him doing homework? How often do you talk to his teachers? Make sure you know what's going on in each of his classes, and what he's doing right/wrong in each.

Educate yourself and your son about the pros and cons of various drugs. I highly recommend Buzzed, Just Say Know and Pumped (if he's in the athletic world at all), all widely praised, no-nonsense books by three professors at Duke's medical school. They're excellent resources for both of you - honest, clear, nonjudgmental but cautionary.

Finally, talk to the father. If you steer clear of kneejerk judgments about all illegal drugs, you might be able to get him on board with a factual approach that will help guide your son permanently away from things like crystal meth, cocaine and heroin. Good luck! It's really not the end of the world.
posted by mediareport at 6:52 AM on May 1, 2006

I can't tell you exactly what to expect in terms of the court, but if it's anything like what happened to my stepson (busted for being drunk at a high school football game, in Tennessee), it'll go like this: the court date will get bumped a few times. There'll be an initial meeting with a counsellor/ advocate rather than a judge. The counsellor will try to explain in pretty decent detail what to expect, will interview the parent(s) and child to get a feel for how stable the family situation is.

If he/she's fairly convinced things aren't too screwy at home and that the kid isn't out of control, they will advocate to the judge that he go on what is effectively probation 'lite', where there will be meetings with a probation officer and possibly some counseling sessions or 'scared straight' movies to watch, but no permanent record or long term punishments (like not getting a driver's license until he's 18) if he stays in compliance.

McGuillicuddy's last line is worth re-reading. If it were me, I'd get a lawyer and not just hope that the counsellor is on good terms with the judge. Also, pray that it's not a re-election year where the judge wants to show that he's tough on crime.
posted by kimota at 7:00 AM on May 1, 2006

Response by poster: Being 16 is a proven cause for lowered grades and rebelliousness in many teens, especially males.

Goofyy has it. However you choose to address the situation, remember that the pot-smoking is a symptom of normal teenage rebellion, not a cause. Doesn't mean you shouldn't have a sit-down about the legalities of pot-smoking, especially if you want him to stop.

Familiarize yourself with the effects of smoking pot and whatnot. Having this data at your fingertips will give you a more effective case, so you don't come off as a stodgy ol' parent who's been to too many D.A.R.E. classes.
posted by Anonymous at 7:18 AM on May 1, 2006

Back in the late '80's, my son's mother discovered a couple of joints in my younger son's laundry, when he was a 16 year old high school sophomore. She happened to be a senior social worker in the state where they lived, re-married for several years to a prominent attorney, and she pretty much went ballistic upon making the discovery, including committing him for 120 day residence type involuntary drug rehab program. Part of this was, I know, to protect her own position in the social services hierarchy, and that of the rest of her family in the small town where she lived with her attorney second husband and their two younger children, and part of her motivation was that she genuinely felt inadequate to control his behaviors and felt threatened and powerless as a custodial parent in the face of what she saw as drug influenced behavior, but it poisoned her relationship with both my sons, and they both responded by leaving home as soon they graduated from high school.

My younger son never ran afoul of law enforcement as a result of drug use, but when he was released from the rehab, he'd basically resolved to speak to his mother as little as possible, to do whatever he had to do to get through his junior and senior years in high school while living in her home, and to get out of her house at the earliest opportunity, as did his older brother. They both left her home, essentially from their high school graduation ceremonies.

Since that time, U.S. drug laws have become, generally, even more draconian, and the OP's son is likely going to have some juvenile record, even if it's a minor "first offense" type ding, and as a result, he's put his adolescence on a different track than it would have been, absent this run in with the law. While I tend to agree with much of what ludwig_van and others have posted above regarding the relative normalcy of minor drug experimentation by teens, the OP's son needs to recognize that his life situation is different now, and that most adults in his life, who become aware of his drug charge, are going to view him differently, until they can see he's not going to become a bigger societal problem than he may already be seen as being. I urge the OP, as other's have, to obtain the services of an attorney(preferably one with some juvenile court experience) to represent the kid through the process, and to be a resource to the family through the process. The OP's son also needs to understand that his actions regarding drugs now have liabilities for other family members, and that he absolutely can't afford to bring drugs or paraphernalia into the OP's home, and that he's likely going to lose some privacy, and perhaps (depending on jurisdiction) be subject to some of the recommendations of this report [PDF file] from June 2005 by the University of Wisconsin–Madison Schools of Human Ecology and Social Work, and the University of Wisconsin–Extension, Cooperative Extension.

I hope, for the sake of the OP and her son, and their long term relationship, that together, they can resolve to get through this as members of a loving family, each doing what they can to "fix" this situation, with honesty and genuine concern for everyone involved. Obviously, they are going to have to do whatever the court mandates, but at a minimum, the OP's son can expect immediate scrutiny regarding his friends, his after school activities, his school achievement and extra-curricular activities. If he doesn't already have a job, he may be tasked with finding one, or he may be assigned significant community service work. I suspect it will all be easier to handle as a family, if everyone sees the court's actions and recommendations as being the foundation of a program genuinely intended to help adolescent first time offenders. But that's asking a lot of everyone involved, at this tough time.

But nobody can change the facts, now. All that can change are the attitudes of the people involved, and the outcomes of this situation. Anger has to be acknowledged and dealt with, forgiveness needs to be asked and given, and ideally, trust needs to be earned and rebuilt. Personally, I think adolescent drug experimentation is often overblown, but for obvious reasons, the courts can't see it that way, given the current and ongoing legal climate. The OP's son has gotten himself "in the system" now, and all that is at issue is how best he and his family can get "out of the system" in the most direct and beneficial way. If they learn from this, and avoid bigger problems down the line, that's the best that can happen. If they don't, things can spin out of control from here, pretty quickly.

In the case of my son, his situation occurred well before many of the findings cited as predictive factors in the Wisconsin report cited above were as well understood. His commitment to rehab, and his mother's authoritarian handling of the situation spawned an unusual desire for independence at an early age, but may have kept him out of further trouble, although I think he feels his own intelligence and internal motivation would have been the key factors to this anyway.

At any rate, he's done OK in life. He became a commercial demolition expert, did that work for 10 years, married, had 3 kids, built a house with his own hands, and at the age of 33, has, in the last year, gone back to pharmacy school. He occasionally visits his mother, but they still have mutual limits on their areas of discussion.
posted by paulsc at 7:38 AM on May 1, 2006

I bet you still have negative feelings about your ex's use of drugs. Did his use of drugs cause the break up of your marriage? Also, it's not clear from your questioning who has custody of your son, and whether custody or visitation plays into any of this.

Regardless, if your ex was/is an addict, your son needs to understand that addiction runs in families. You may also be interested in knowing if your son tipples from the ex's stash. However, you don't want to demonize your ex in this process. It's a thin line.

If you have the kind of relationship with your son where you can ask him why he's using, do that. Ask him how he feels when he smokes, how he feels when he doesn't have access to pot, etc. Look for signs of self-medicating and heavy escapism. How well did your son deal with the divorce?

Personally, my main issue with 16 year olds doing drugs is that excessive drug use at that age may stunt emotional development. (ie - they don't learn healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress/problems, instead they learn to escape with drugs). This is also worrisome from an addiction standpoint if he is genetically predisposed. If your questioning about the reasons for his use expose underlying emotional problems, he may need some counseling. (note: he does not need counseling because he smokes pot, instead, if he is using pot as an unhealthy crutch to deal with real pain, he needs counseling to deal with real pain).

I agree upthread with the people that said sic the killer attack lawyers.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:40 AM on May 1, 2006

Depending how serious the laws in Wisconsin are, it might be helpful for you and your son to meet with a lawyer before you appear in court, so you can find out what to expect. You might not have to retain a lawyer for the hearing, but an initial consultation could be very helpful.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:48 AM on May 1, 2006

While I tend to agree with much of what ludwig_van and others have posted above regarding the relative normalcy of minor drug experimentation by teens, the OP's son needs to recognize that his life situation is different now, and that most adults in his life, who become aware of his drug charge, are going to view him differently, until they can see he's not going to become a bigger societal problem than he may already be seen as being.

Look, I am most definitely not a lawyer and you probably should speak to one, but I think this sounds overly alarmist. I don't know what state this is in or what the specific laws are, but the poster said her son was caught with a pipe in someone else's car. She doesn't say he was caught with a quarter pound of weed. I don't think this is necessarily going to be some kind of scarlet letter on him for the rest of his life. Two of my good friends were caught in this exact situation in high school. They lost a good bong, had to go to some court dates. I think they may have had to do a bit of counselling and/or community service, and I'm not sure about a fine. But they both graduated near the top of the class and went to excellent universities and are well-integrated productive adults.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:52 AM on May 1, 2006

What ludwig said initially.

Do not attack your son. Find out WHY he's smoking weed--for fun or escape? If the later, find out what he's escaping from. If the former, so what? Once a week is nothing and is probably not affecting his grades or his mood.

Don't do something stupid like putting him in rehab or sending him to counseling (unless it's counseling for other issues and NOT the drug use).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:53 AM on May 1, 2006

Er, the point being, you should find out for yourself from a lawyer. Just don't panic needlessly before you do.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:54 AM on May 1, 2006

"... Look, I am most definitely not a lawyer and you probably should speak to one, but I think this sounds overly alarmist. ..."
posted by ludwig_van at 10:52 AM EST on May 1 [!]"

My comment wasn't intended to be alarmist, but really, the likely course of this through the juvenile system is going to be heavily influenced by the findings of the investigators and social workers handling the pretrial case work. If the kid has poor grades (below B average), other school infractions resulting from an "increase in rebellion," and if there are other family situation predictors we don't know about, beyond the split of the birth parents and the father's extensive drug history, the recommendations of investigators can vary a lot. And some of the mechanisms available in the regular court system for handling minor drug offenses aren't case paths in many juvenile systems (pre-trial diversions, plea bargain, etc.)

Bottom line is to take it seriously, get an attorney, do what can be done to minimize impact, and work the recommendations/programs suggested together, as a family. IANAL, either.
posted by paulsc at 8:14 AM on May 1, 2006

Your son is becoming a young man, and soon he will be, regardless of your intervention. For many people, experimenting with sexuality, sex, freedom, and drugs are important parts of the process of becoming a conscious, aware adult.

Drugs are good. Many great people have been able to realize their full human potential through their use. Maybe if you realize this first, you'll understand the conflict is more with the Man than between you and your son - legal problems, not parenting issues. Or at least, it can be this way, if you open yourself to that possibility.

As it seems that you yourself have not yet turned on and tuned in, I support the many recommendations in this thread for more research - erowid, norml, etc. Your deadbet ex might be a useful resource in this area, too!

All the best for you and your son. Things will be OK in the long run, I promise.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:59 AM on May 1, 2006

Simplistic though it might be, it seems that your son is making adult decisions. It seems to me that he should be aware of the adult consequences and be ready to pay them as well. So put your son into the process of selecting and consulting with an attorney. Sit down and make a list of questions for him to ask (most notably, what is likely to happen this time and times in the future). Ask him if he wants you to come with him to the consultation. If you retain the services, have your son pay them off.

I would stress that making adult decisions can be hard, and living with the consequences can be harder, especially if you didn't know what they were to start. When adults have trouble making a decision, they consult with other adults to help think it through (after all, by asking this question, you are doing just that). You can use that as an foundation for creating an open dialogue. I suspect that what you want for your son is that he will learn to make good decisions as an adult. I see an opportunity to help point him in that direction.
posted by plinth at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2006

I think that plinth hit the nail on the head completely.

Responsible drug use is not bad, however it is imperative that your son understand the full ramifications of his actions. Think of this as his chance to see what happens after using drugs irresponsibly. Luckily, at age 18, his record will be sealed and no one will be the wiser.
posted by ThFullEffect at 10:55 AM on May 1, 2006

This is SO not a big deal. Your son got caught with a pipe. If it was my kid, I would be more angry at the police for detaining him for no reason. Pipes are not against the law; heck, you can buy them in legit shops all over the place. They couldn't arrest him, so they humiliated him by calling his parents.

While your son is no doubt sorry that he got in trouble, sorry that you found out, etc., he no doubt knows that it's not a big deal. He'll respect you more if you deal with the situation in that context.
posted by bingo at 2:29 PM on May 1, 2006

Your son learned a valuable lesson, and languagehat is right on.

As to why your kid is smoking weed: Duh. He's sixteen. He's not doing it to self-medicate, he's not doing it to escape, he's not doing it because of his father. He's doing it to get stoned, because it's fun to be stoned.

Listen, I'm not 16 anymore, but what I remember from these days is that I saw through (most of) the bullshit. If my folks would have told me that "we don't think you're going to be a junkie, and pot isn't going to kill you, but while you're under our roof, we don't want the risk of you using illegal drugs," I would have respected them. I probably wouldn't have given up smoking pot, but I surely would have been careful about how I did it.

Point him to this thread, and explain to him that you realize that H and grass are different thing, and that you (at this point) do not think he's going to jail, but that this is what happens to unlucky young people who use drugs.

Otherwise, I think that the advice here is largely sound, and that the MeFi liberals, for the most part, will raise very good children.
posted by Kwantsar at 2:42 PM on May 1, 2006

Others may find this answer totally irresponsible, but I suggest you smoke a joint with your son.

You can't stop a kid from doing something with any certainty. Not a 16 year old. And certainly not something as harmless as smoking pot once a week. You can try, and it will simply continue happening behind your back, without your involvement or knowledge, and entirely outside your sphere of influence.

I highly recommend you roll one together and:

1) find out what it's like to smoke pot (it's nice and no big deal)
2) find out what he's like when he smokes (this will help give you a sense of how it affects him, how he uses it)
3) earn his trust on the subject so at least you stay in the loop on what he's doing with himself.

If you win his trust on this, he'll listen to what you say. If you crack the whip on him without knowing what you're talking about, you'll push him away and have no impact on his behavior. He's out of the house pretty soon now. I think it's time to let any concept of hardcore control fall by the wayside. Those days are done.

And for the record, I began occasionally smoking pot around 16 and it has never developed into a problem. It's a very low-key and enjoyable and very occasional part of my life I consider to be a positive. And yes, I have smoked with my parents (who had never done it before).
posted by scarabic at 7:40 PM on May 1, 2006 [2 favorites]

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